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Sandy Andina: News

2011's first update - January 12, 2011

Wow--was the last Journal update back in Oct. about FARM & SERFA? Time to fill you all in!!

First, the sad news.  We lost Bob's dad, Peter Andina, to three massive strokes and their aftermath on Nov. 4, 2010. Friends and loved ones flocked to say goodbye at his wake and funeral in Chicago and wake & interment in Queens, where he and Bob's mom Elizabeth are reunited, both returned to the Earth and to eternity.  Condolences go out to the families of those killed in the Tucson mass shooting this past Saturday, and prayers for healing and courage go to the wounded (chief among them Congresswoman Giffords) and their families. And finally, for Debbie Friedman, who revolutionized Jewish music, liturgy, and congregational participation--rest in peace, may her memory be for a blessing, and may we bless her by singing the musical setting of Mi Sheberach she composed that brought comfort, strength, and healing to so many over the years.

Now the good news.  FARM, SERFA, and NERFA turned out to be more fun and productive than we ever dreamed imagine: old friends, new connections, and wonderful music to hear and to join in performing.  And two of the prettiest mountain ranges you'd ever want to see--the Ozarks and Catskills (as well as Poconos and Alleghenies on the way home from NERFA).   The Bar Show, "Plea," revivified by a huge infusion of fresh new talent (our biggest cast in years) was a success and a stone gas.  

We're gratified and delighted that our song "Caffeine" was chosen as #3 by WDCB "Folk Festival" host Lilli Kuzma on her Top Ten Fave Songs List for 2010; that our CD "Two Guitars, a Dulcimer, and an Attitude" also made her 2010 Favorites list; that the CD was approved by the Recording Academy for inclusion on the preliminary Grammy ballot in 7 categories; and that EVERY ONE of its 14 songs has received airplay--worldwide, broadcast, webcast & satellite--some of 'em in rotation!  "Where Did the Good Man Go"was chosen for and is on the just-released Acoustic Rainbow "Roots/Americana" sampler; and "Morning" will be on Acoustic Rainbow's first-ever Bluegrass sampler!

And now, as promised in my Sandygram, "the organ recital:"

My right knee continues to heal nicely from the partial lateral meniscectomy arthroscopic surgery I had in July--and will NOT need to be replaced for at least a few years--I've been fitted with a support brace to make sure I don't tear anything else in it and that my patella stays where it belongs; and there's much less damage in the medial compartment than we'd thought (the damage on the lateral side's been smoothed by my ace orthopedic surgeon and will not require "unloading" of the forces on it).  And although the verdict on my left knee was initially grim--the medial (inner) condyle is bone-on-bone and the knee is a candidate for not a partial but a total replacement because I haven't had an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in it since ''94--I now have a combination ACL support/osteoarthritis "unloader" brace that will take most of the pressure off the inner surfaces of the knee and keep it from locking or collapsing. And it is a spiffy purple (almost went with Candy Apple Red metaillic).  This ought to keep me from going under the knife for at least another year, and make exercise (walking, hiking, stairs, and elliptical training) much easier.....and hopefully, help me shed a little of my excess "baggage." Come to my gigs, and I'll show it to you!

And the rest of the "organs?" Well, my bronchi misbehaved for a few days following the Bar Show (having had the courtesy not to go blooey during the run of the show) and my back went out for two weeks--the second day of its lumbar rebellion coinciding with both a massive snowstorm and the vandalism of my garage and car. (All that was lost was my driver-side window, a dying GPS, my sense of security--and to my greatest regret, my inability to entertain you at the Andina & Rich Holiday Show in Madison, hosted by the wonderful Shava Bas Riva. Thanks so much to Stephen, his wife Ingrid Frances Stark, and Nancy Rost for stepping in and delivering my intended musical contributions)!  But my body seems to be behaving just fine now........kinahorra........(Yiddish for "knock wood"). And my car's been fixed and I have a new GPS (as well as a reinforced garage door).

What's coming up? This Friday night 1/14 at 6:45 pm, I will be participating as one of the Worship Song Leaders at the TBD Minyan service at Emanuel Congregation (5959 N. Sheridan, Chicago), in honor and memory of Debbie Friedman. Next Sat. 1/22 from 8-10 pm, help me celebrate my Big Six-O birthday at Grounds For Appeal in Berwyn. (Details in the Calendar Dates section, in the last Sandygram, and a reminder next week--at our age, we need all the reminding we can get).

And check the Calendar Dates section for details about:  our showcases at Folk Alliance in Memphis on 2/18 & 19 (conference runs 2/16-20), house concert for Two Crows Farm in Upper Sandisky, OH on 2/25; and our biggest break thus far:  opening Sat. night 2/26 at Carnegie Lecture Hall in Pittsburgh for Red Horse (John Gorka, Lucy Kaplansky and Eliza Gilkyson)!  Then it's on to Conewago Coffee in Elizabethtown, PA on Sat. 3/5 (with a possible jam/writers' round in the Wilmington, DE area Fri. 3/4), with special guest our old friend Aaron Nathans; our annual concert at Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago in Skokie Sat. 3/12, with the inimitable Norm Siegel opening (and helping us close); Wild Hog in the Woods Coffeehouse in Madison, WI Fri. 3/18; The Mad Hatter's Room in Iowa City, IA Fri. 4/8; KOPN Sunday Morning Coffeehouse on-air 4/10; taping the syndicated "River City Folk" with host Tom May (we'll fill you in on air dates!!!) 4/13; returning to Cafe Semolino in Hays, KS Fri. 4/15; attending the AFM Local 1000 retreat at the Highlander Center near Knoxville, TN (members only, limited spots going fast!) 5/16-19; then on to SERFA as it moves to the spring at the Montreat Center in Asheville, NC 5/19-22; and places in between till our return to Cheeseland for the Mill Bluff State Park Art & Music Festival in Camp Douglas, WI Sat. 6/4; People's Church, in Chicago (tentative) Fri. 6/10; and Maxwell St. Days in Madison on Fri. July 15.  More to come in between and after, of course (and we're already booking into 2012, to tease ya)!

Stay warm, dry, and if you must go out on the ice, at least wear skates and carry a hockey stick (cue the vamp from "Chelsea Dagger")!!!

FARM, SERFA and CD Release coming up! - October 3, 2010

FARM 2010 is just four days away, and we already have 167 advance registrants! (That's twice the average since 2006, and 40% more than last year).  There will be a Folk-DJ showcase on Thurs. night, headlined by Jim Post, Joel Mabus, and Lou & Peter Berryman.  And of course, you're probably wondering when Andina & Rich will be playing. Our Performance Lane showcase is 11:20 pm Saturday night Oct. 9, in the Clover room (1st conf. room on the left after the lobby).  

We're heading south to SERFA in Mt. View, AR the next weekend (Oct. 14-17 at the Ozark Folk Center).  For those of you coming, our showcases are as follows: 

Thurs. 10/14, 1 a.m.            Songwriters in the Round with Bill & Kate Isles

Fri. 10/15, after lunch          Fast Pitch showcase (in main conf. auditorium)                                                                          11:30 p.m.         Artists' Continuum                                                                                                                      1:20 a.m.         Texas Sugarbabies                                                                                                  Sat. 10/16 10:30 p.m.        Make Nashville Weirder                                                                                                              12:20 a.m.        Virginia & Lovers

Cabin numbers will be listed in the conference program.        

AND don't forget the official Chicagoland release party (THE big one!) for Andina & Rich's "Two Guitars, a Dulcimer and an Attitude," 7-9:30 p.m. at McNichols Studio For the Performing Arts, 5225 Main St. (across Main from Emmett's Ale House and across the parking lot from the Ballydoyle; 2 bl. s. of the Metra BNSF Downers Grove station)  in Downers Grove, IL.  $10 gets you in the door, feeds your face and wets your whistle, and sends you home with an autographed CD!   Intimate friendly room with great acoustics (and gracious hostess!), and a show that'll be tons of fun.                                                                                                              



Fox Valley Update - August 17, 2010

Here is when and where on the Fox Valley Folk Festival grounds to find Andina and Rich:

Sunday, Sep. 5:   11:00 a.m.  Main Stage;  1:30 p.m.  Two Way Street Favorites Stage

Monday, Sep. 6:   11:00 a.m.   Chicago Songwriters' Collective Workshop Stage  (possible time shift to noon)

Location change for 8/21 - August 13, 2010

Just been informed that for our Edgewater Third Saturdays outdoor show on Aug. 21 from 1-3 p.m.., we've been moved north from Thorndale & Broadway to the NW corner of Granville & Broadway, at the entrance plaza to the Claro Vista Apts., same building as Aldi. (Bananas Foster Cafe is across Granville).  We'll play rain or shine--there will be a canopy.  As always, this is a free entertainment series for the enjoyment of shoppers and the neighborhood. CDs will be available for sale.  

On a sad note, this has been a difficult summer indeed in terms of losing dear friends to the march of time. Farewell to Nate Brenner, a castmate of mine and veteran of the Chicago Bar Assn. Christmas Spirits show since 1965.  He was a genial and gentle soul who mentored cast newbies and while quiet, always had a quip or two up his sleeve.  I can't wrap my mind around his being gone, and will miss him even more once the reality sinks in.

Bad knees, good news - August 11, 2010

Am now nearly 2 weeks post-arthroscopy on my rt. knee (see my blog).  One week post-injury, the swelling had gone down enough for the surgeon to manipulate my knee to ascertain I was having mechanical problems from the lateral meniscus tear; and this changed his mind--he decided I needed arthroscopic surgery after all.  So I had the surgery July 29 at Swedish Covenant Hospital.  Good news--no torn ligaments or tendons, just the lateral meniscus. Not-so-good news was that since the tear was in the avascular part of the meniscus (no blood vessels), it could not be stitched back together as was my left medial meniscus in 1994 and had to be trimmed smooth. The rough articular cartilage surfaces of my knee joint itself were also smoothed (to some degree) to reduce friction due to pretty advanced osteoarthritis (which is actually worse in the other knee). So it looks like I will be getting a pair of steel-and-teflon knees for Christmas. After some painful and shaky spells, now that I've been cleared to remove the compression bandage my knee is actually stabler and less painful.  Even able to take some small distances sans cane. (Considering that for the first couple of days I was on crutches and then for three more on a walker, not bad, huh?).  Seeing the surgeon tomorrow, and I expect to have the two sutures removed, and get permission to take a normal stand-up shower without wearing a garbage bag on my leg (and dangling it outside the tub while I sit on a shower chair)--and, hopefully, be cleared to drive....short distances at first. Norm, our bassist, will drive me to the CD release party in Madison on Thurs., as a 300-mi. roundtrip (on the day of a high-pressure show) is not the wisest choice for my return to the driver's seat.

CD release party tomorrow! Showtime at the Brink (701 E. Wash., Madison) is 7 pm, but that'll depend on how much before 6 we can get in to set up & soundcheck.  Normally, an hour's more than enough time for Steve & me, but this time we have Norm on bass & occasional third vox (plus his amp), Nancy on keys (plus her amp) and Julia on fiddle (okay, that's a relatively easy soundcheck); AND we hope to record this live. Ten bucks gets you in, and sends you home with an autographed CD.

Catch us in Chicago in my 'hood, on the corner of Thorndale & B'way, outdoors from 1-3 pm on Sat. Aug. 21--a return engagement in the Edgewater Third Saturdays summer concert series.  This should be a well-traveled but much more music-friendly (no noisy, stacked-three-deep, fume-spewing CTA buses idling on their route turnaround as were my accompaniment a mile south in July).  Free, of course!

Just found out we'll be playing the Two Way Street Favorites stage at Fox Valley (again, w. Norm on bass) this Labor Day weekend, and the Chicago Songwriters' Collective Showcase there on the other day of the fest.  Those of you in the CSC who have requested slots, I think you'll all be accommodated and I will be assigning them as soon as we know which day we're doing TWS (which requires a Main Stage mini-set the first slot of the day we're playing, which is usually the CSC's time slot--even if the CSC plays at noon that day, we'd prefer not to have to rush from one end of the park to the other, especially with my knee still feeling its oats).  The Festival runs 10 am (music starts 11)-6 pm (with square dance Sun. night) both Sun. & Mon. of Labor Day Weekend (9/5-6) on Island Park in the middle of the Fox River smack dab in downtown Geneva, IL. (Metra commuter rail at west end of the park).  No camping, but less than 90 min. by car from far northeast Chicago (shorter from points south & west), and plenty of reasonable lodging options in Geneva and surrounding 'burbs.

More airplay:  KOPN Sunday Morning Coffeehouse has played "Let 'Em Eat Moose"--the first broadcast station to take on Ms. Palin vicariously (or at least, via me). 'Nette Radio (internet, out of Los Angeles) played "Talking to the Vines." And Radio Crystal Blue's Novus Ordo podcast, which played the Appetizers version of "Comin' Home," will feature another song, this time off the full CD, on its Aug. 15-recorded podcast (likely up by Aug. 17).

THE EAGLE--uh, CD--HAS LANDED! - June 27, 2010

Got the news Friday--the CD arrived chez Steve on Friday, and it sounds and looks great!  We're giving our good friend Lilli Kuzma, of WDCB-FM 90.9/, first crack at it--we will be officially debuting it on her "Folk Festival" show this Tues. night, 6/29, at approximately 8 pm CDT (the show itself runs from 7-9, and is definitely worth listening to in its entirety) and performing selections from it live in-studio as well as introducing cuts from and discussing it with Lilli.  Your first chance to buy it in person before its official release?  If you are coming to our special outdoor holiday dock concert for the Woolpys in Minocqua, WI on Sat. night July 3, we'll have it with us there.  If you plan to be in Hays, KS Fri. July 9 at 7:30 pm at Cafe Semolino, we're selling it there too. We're hoping to have it on Columbia, MO's KOPN "Sunday Morning Coffeehouse" with Steve Jerrett (also the home of Stephen Lee Rich's comedy segment "Penguin Shoeshine Theater") live in-studio the next day before heading back up north. Sat. July 15, 1 pm at Edgewater Third Saturdays in Chicago (location TBA, somewhere outside along either Granville, Thorndale, Bryn Mawr or Berwyn Ave. w/in steps of the CTA, or along Broadway between Granville and Berwyn), I will have some for you in my open guitar case--no tips necessary, they're paying me--as I perform solo for your enjoyment. You West Suburbanites get your chance to buy it when Andina & Rich play the French Market in Lisle Sat. morning July 24 from 8-noon (or longer if we're on a roll) and Northsiders can come to the Glenlake Block Party to watch us play (gratis) at my block party during the dinner hour.  Madisonians get their chance at our first OFFICIAL release party Thurs. Aug. 12 at The Brink Lounge just n. of downtown--for $10 you get not just admission but the CD itself....and maybe some noshes.  We will have accompaniment (fiddle, bass, mandolin, perhaps accordion, just like on the disc). We're still working on the location of the Chicago release party; and we would love to be able to have one down in Southern IL near Sparta, so our full in-studio lineup can join us on stage!

It's also being processed by so very soon you can buy it there and via Amazon and (and on the usual download services including iTunes, Amazon, & Rhapsody--but you'd be missing out on the terrific packaging and art direction by the amazing Annie Capps if you only download).  It is immediately available for $15 (S&H included) from e-mail until we have the link up and we'll get it out to you (we'll even remove the shrink-wrap and autograph it if you'd like).   Look for t-shirts and other merch as well very soon.

If you'd like to be part of "Andina & Rich's Attitude Army" ("street team" is so yesterday), let us know at our e-mail address!

Also, if you reside or have contacts anywhere along the road from Chicago to Hays (including the Des Moines, Topeka and Kansas City areas) and Columbia back home (the St. Louis and s. IL areas north along I-55 or I-57) and would like us to entertain you up-close-and-personal (but not in-your-face)--do let us know ASAP:  we will do house concerts, coffeehouses, bookstores, hoedowns, whatever.  By ASAP, I mean STAT, PDQ, yesterday!

Finally, a special shout-out to my good friend Jean-Luc Leroux in Nouméa, New Caledonia.  Besides being a wonderful singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist, he is the deejay and host of "Route 66," the Southwest Pacific's premier roots/Americana/Canadiana/bluegrass/country music program en français, on Radio RRB, Saturday afternoons from 4:30-6pm Nouméa local time (14 hours earlier for Central Daylight time, interpolate your time zone from there). Listen streaming live (and archived till each new show) at has been playing country selections from Andina & Rich's, SASS!'s and my solo CDs. And for the past month or so, I've been his American music correspondent, delivering the weekly "Nashville News" and spotlighting two noteworthy new releases per show.  (Aussi en français, bien sur).  The talk may be in French, but the music's mostly in English and always a delight.  I hope my schedule (and knees) will permit me to deliver one of those weekly reports live from Nashville when Jean-Luc visits there in late September! (And to let Steve take his French language skills out of mothballs).

Ah, I love the smell of shrinkwrap in the morning!

Asthma at bay and CD at the plant! - May 28, 2010

Despite the worst spring allergy season on record (sky-high grass pollens and cottonwood blizzards), I've bludgeoned my asthma into submission with albuterol 4x/day and Singulair; and now I've been switched to Advair twice a day, with nary a wheeze. (Still being vigilant about my sinuses).  Got my hair repaired so that it's stronger and won't frizz for at least the next three months.  Fixed my malfunctioning machines (and replaced the one--Gordy's A/C--I couldn't fix). 

And after several fun weekends gigging and also entertaining for just the fun of it, plus furiously proofreading and e-mailing, I am excited to say that the new Andina & Rich CD is now wholly in the hands of the pressing plant. Yup-they have the master, the artwork, the text and the payment.  Soon as we get the hard-copy proofs back and approve them, pressing and packaging will be complete 16 business days later. And then, when the discs arrive, we'll schedule the release parties: one in Chicago, one in Madison, and maybe one even down near Sparta where the album was born. In any case, we will have the same instrumentation as we did on the CD so that what you'll hear on stage is what you'll get to take home (if we can't get the original studio musicians, we have some excellent subs at the ready).

We'll see you next at Cafe Carpe in Ft. Atkinson, WI on June 4 (co-bill with Rich Baumann, who may also join us on fiddle); and I'll be volunteering June 6 at the Sing Out! benefit concert at First Congregational Church (home of Two Way Street) in Downers Grove--tickets are going fast (Anne Hills is headlining). Then I'm headed to San Diego for a week of rest, relaxation and reconnection with friends---anyone down there who wants to host a house concert, let me know and I'll pack my guitar & dulcimer.  And on June 19, we'll be in Berwyn at Grounds For Appeal!

Take your sinuses seriously! - April 24, 2010

So the night before the Remembering Tom Dundee tribute concert, I was having a pre-temple-karaoke dinner at B'way Cellars and suddenly realized I did not want dessert. This was a bad sign (as all who know their desserts can attest).  Head home and find I am having trouble holding notes singing along with the radio. Decided that singing in one corner of a social hall full of kids also playing Rock Band and Guitar Hero would not be good for my voice (nor for said kids). So I took the usual early-cold precautions and turned in early.

Next day was just about able to get through the three songs Steve & I did in the postlude, and tried to spice my cold into submission with a Southern dinner at Big Jones. Felt lousier & lousier till Tues. I called the family doc--who told me to come in STAT. I was wheezing & gasping so hard I even stuffed a toothbrush into my purse just in case I got admitted. It didn't come to that--but it turned out an allergic postnasal drip had combined with a cold (which I probably caught at a beauty treatment on Thurs.), turned bacterial and occupied my lungs. This bronchitis in turn triggered asthma--which had been impervious to even my nebulizer.

Now, whenever there's a flu or cold outbreak going around, health reporters do stories admonishing sufferers not to pester their doctors for an antibiotic 'scrip, since colds & flu are viral and antibiotics don't work on viruses.  I had a standing scrip for a Z-Pack I never filled, for that reason (I was also spooked at the prospect of abusing antibiotics), as well as Flonase and a Medrol (prednisone) Dosepak in reserve for a sudden laryngitis attack before a big gig; I skipped the steroids because I thought that they depress the immune system and shouldn't be used during an infection.  But it turns out that anyone with chronic sinusitis and especially asthma should have an emergency supply of both, according to my doc.  The pollen mixed with the viruses, awakened a colony of strep or mycoplasma in my sinuses and sent the whole stew slithering down into my lungs. Yuck.  

Also learned a better way to use an inhaler, more effective than even a nebulizer--exhale, shake inhaler, insert into mouth (closed around inhaler), inhale SLOWLY and during inhalation depress the canister for 2 short puffs. Count to 5, relax & exhale.  For the first time, I actually felt and tasted the medicine in my throat, not just the propellant in my mouth.

Breathing much easier now, not fully recovered, but enough of my range is back to handle two sets next Fri. night at Wild Hog.  So don't feel like a doofus or hypochondriac if you feel a cold coming on and you have allergies or asthma--especially if you sing!  You still might not need any more than chicken soup, steam, saline spray and hot tea.......but let that be your doctor's call, not yours.

Now if poor Ruby (my '02 Taurus SEL) would just get discharged from her "hospital;" did the math and the repairs are still less than low blue book value, but regardless of that, I don't want a new car.....nor a new loan.  3 motor mounts, 2 shocks, oil pan/steering/trans. fluid leak, new side view mirror and oil change....coulda been a lot worse. Gone through a few batteries, a set and a half of tires and a set of brakes, about par for the course over eight years (and all of the latest ones of those are new).   Come home, Ruby--I'd rather drive you than that crummy little rental car to Madison!

catching up (not catching cold) - April 13, 2010

We had a terrific time at Folk Alliance, and did a number of wonderful concerts:  with the Holdsworths opening for us, we nearly filled the room at Ethical Humanist and have already been rebooked for January.  We had an enthusiastic audience for our newest material at Live From the Living Room in Pontiac, MI, watched Annie & Rodd Capps do a terrific video concert at Trinity House in Livonia, and Annie is just about done with the CD graphics--we just have a couple more photos for the back cover and booklet to take and send her; hopefully, we'll have the 14-song full monty to the pressing plant by the end of the month and will be scheduling the release parties (Chi., Madison, and S. IL) as soon as the discs are in our hands. Meanwhile, had a wonderful time reconnecting with my Bar Show castmates at Scoozi (and am honored to have won the Spear Carrier Award; for a full year, my home will be protected from intruders w/o my having to possess an illegal firearm).  Attended Mary McNichols' voice studio opening in Downers Grove: it's beautiful, roomy and has great acoustics (hopefully, we'll be doing some performing there) and her and Pat's hospitality was gracious (especially despite my klutz tendencies flaring up that day and inspiring others to do the same).  Saw John Gorka & Susan Werner own the room at McAnich Arts Center; thank goodness Werner can't be gigging everywhere at once, so I don't have to give up and go back to practicing law full time. Stephen & I had a wonderfully entertaining SIR writers' round in Madison, where we were wowed by Andrew Nath and Bill Camplin (a guy who can sing, play, write, run pristine sound AND cook)!  Finally,  I had a blast playing Folk Jeopardy on Lilli Kuzma's Folk Festival show last week (Robin & Jenny Bienemann providing imaginative and fun interludes--including the Jeopardy! theme on chimes--and all of us doing a mass singalong on "City of New Orleans" and "This Land is Your Land;" my dulcimers got quite a workout and I introduced much of the W. suburban folk musician community to Passover munchies in the green room). We will definitely be taking that show on the road--at least across the w. suburbs--with the "Folk Jeopardy Players" providing the music.  Friday night we took Bob & his dad to see Celtic Woman---wish I'd been able to shoot video of Dad, nearly 90, clapping and singing along and playing air bodhran.  Sat. was the Christ Hospital gala at Union Station, where we were delighted to find ourselves seated with fellow pro-health-reform liberals! (Whole lotta toasting goin' on).  

What's up next? Well, tomorrow we send off our 1040 so Tax Refund Fairy can wave her magic wand soon; this Sunday 4/18, Andina & Rich will perform our version of Tom Dundee's "These Cowboys Born Out of Their Time" during the postlude to the Dundee tribute concert starring Donna Adler, Chris Farrell, Mick Scott and Norm Siegel at Lilly's on Lincoln at 3 pm.  Then it's up to Wild Hog in the Woods in Madison on Apr. 30 at 8 pm, and The Newport Coffeehouse in Bannockburn, IL on May 14.  (Got some personal and family events to attend, hence the lessened amount of performing).

Apologize for no blog activity--between Facebook maintenance, TV and computer repair, tax doo-dah, a bad back and the above stuff I haven't had much of a chance to shoot off my mouth.....digitally.

FINI: Homeward Bound (and gagged); home again - February 25, 2010

Up Monday morning for breakfast, then packed in a whirlwind. Loaded the car and decided to forego our annual visit to Schwab's:  we had all the props and tchotchkes we needed and wanted to get home ahead of the snow. So we were on the road by noon, a Memphis record for us. The Vibe indeed drove like a dream.  First anticipated stop: the Cotton Inn in Osceola, AR for some Southern coconut cake or sweet potato pie (breakfast had been too recent for a full lunch) and a jar of that amazing Alan's Organic Honey we'd bought there last year.  But there was no coconut cake (the sweet potato pie was still a nice consolation prize) and there was no honey in the display case:  they'd sold their last jar on Sunday, and there'd be no more for awhile, as it had not been an abundant summer for bees. Back on the road, we reached BJ's BBQ in Kewanee, MO at lunchtime. Last time we'd been there, it was all you could eat for eight bucks. But times are tough: it's down to $6.25! We loaded up on ribs, chicken, pork chops, beef ribs, veggies and cornbread, and happily burped our way north to Mt. Vernon, stopping at 17th St. for frozen ribs, condiments and a T-shirt to take home.  

Noticed along the way that as my throat had begun to clear, Steve was coughing and sniffling more & more. Uh-oh.  Checked into the Holiday Inn Express, found our way to our favorite Cantonese buffet, and I saw that I seemed to be out-eating Steve. This alarmed me--he (the man with a hollow leg and the metabolism of a blast furnace) was nibbling. I suggested he just go for the chicken broth in the wonton soup and he felt a bit better. Got back to the room--it was too late and we were too wiped out to record "Chasing Lightning" so we watched TV in our adjoining rooms. I fell asleep and was awakened by heartburn; as I sat up and it subsided, I heard him coughing and hacking. He assured me he'd be okay.  At breakfast the next morning, I suggested we pick up some DayQuil for him, and so we did.  We made excellent time going home (stopping at Effingham for snacks & Arcola for a late lunch).  Stayed a step ahead of the snow and behind the Chicago rush hour--smooth sailing all the way.

Both got home feeling like dreck--Steve had caught the cold that was going around FAI and I had caught it (a different virus than the one I'd brought TO Memphis) as well. We were both too exhausted and laryngitic to record; and I advised him to sleep over, as the guest room was ready for him and Ingrid confirmed it was snowing in Madison.  I slept in, and by the time I'd awakened, he was full of breakfast and on the road.  I had begun to run a fever again (this time accurately recorded) and so napped on and off, watching the Olympics on Wed. and catching up on bill-paying and this journal. Today (Thurs.) I found out he'd arrived home yesterday at 1:30pm with just enough energy to hit the sack; he slept straight through till 7 this morning!

We had a marvelous time, despite mishaps and maladies en route (and news of mishaps at home as well--Ingrid had been rear-ended in Madison the night we spun out, and Bob had fallen on the ice Sunday walking from Holy Cross Hospital to the Mother House of the Sisters of St. Casimir to visit a sick nun who was one of his patients, and bruised his ribs so badly he thought they were broken; but he went to work anyway).  Despite his own injured ribs, he was eager to devour the BBQ'ed ones I brought home from 17th Street.

So it's back to my normal routine (with a bit more gray hair than usual--no time for a touchup) tomorrow: looking forward to reconnoitering with my Bar Show buddies at the Cast Party at Scoozi, to be entertained and lampooned by the rookies.  And more blogging, promoting, family stuff, and checking in with the office.  Life is good, even if uneven; music is better; family and friendship is best. Little mishaps engender big miracles.  All in all, as Andy Calhoun said on his Facebook page, living in the "now" is as good as it gets.

Amen. And so to bed (after a glass of bubbly with my darlin', who just got home from a grueling day at the hospitals).

Part 4: End of the conference - February 21, 2010

My dream reverie of a lazy Sunday morning sleep-in preparatory to Exhibit Hall teardown (in no shape nor mood for a rousing gospel breakfast buffet with the Sacred Steel Revue) was jangled into reality by a panicked phone call from Steve: the Exhibit Hall was no more--every table stripped of everything and everything on or in it in the dumpster. Seems teardown was from 6-8pm SAT. night (which had never happened in my FA experience--teardown was always early Sun. afternoon, accompanied by frantic selloff deals by merchants who wanted to schlep as little home with them as possible). He'd retrieved the one FARM banner Annie had hung over the hotel escalators but the one I thought she'd wanted me to take from the hall had vanished into the ether. After frantic phone calls to everyone I could think of, Steve and I met for what was left of the breakfast buffet and began to brainstorm. I still felt awful physically, but the overlay of guilt made it even worse. I resolved to repay Annie to make another one (the printing firm still had her artwork). Went back to my room, updated e-mail, Twitter, and Facebook (whatever did we do in the olden days before 2006?) and there was a message from Annie telling me she'd gotten home safe and sound and had a blast. I apologized about the banner---and she replied that there had been only ONE banner--the one Steve had safely retrieved.

 I collared the other officials and regional leaders to whom I'd made panicked calls and told them all was well. Said as many good-byes to departing friends and acquaintances as my diminishing voice and energy would allow and headed back up to the room for more e-mail, Olympics and naps. Awoke at 3:45pm, and for the first time that week, actually hungry.  Called Steve (and woke him up too) and we decided to grab a cab to Gus'. Got downstairs, said some more goodbyes, and headed out to hail a cab. Unfortunately, the heavens had opened: rain coming down in buckets, thunder and lightning, and saw some old bearded dude in robe and sandals carrying a yardstick marked in cubits and a pile of lumber, muttering something about having to find a male-female pair of rats.

We took this as a sign to eat in. There were too few guests left (the cotton-gin conventioneers had not yet arrived in force) for the buffet, but we ordered off the menu. Chicken soup (finally!) and the best piece of salmon I'd had in quite a while.  Just as we were debating dessert, we noticed Sue Fink, to whom I'd wanted to talk all weekend. We stretched out a lovely dinner and a lively conversation, and headed back to my room to work on a co-write we'd started earlier that week.  

We'd thought it'd take at least an hour.  Worked out the chords and melody for the verses and bridge (we'd nailed the choruses and lyrics earlier) and 20 minutes later we had the finished song "Chasing Lightning," the most equal co-write either of us had ever done. Only thing that kept us from recording it right then & there was that the remaining guests were not night owls and we didn't want to awaken anyone on a Sunday night.  We said goodnight, knowing we had to pack, load and leave in the morning.

FAI Part 3 - February 20, 2010

Friday morning dawned too darn early--gulped down coffee, headed to the FARM breakfast only to find there wasn't anything set out--so we grabbed buffet tickets for the hotel restaurant, and started our meeting half an hour late (as did all regions).  Normally, we're lucky to get half the room filled and use up most of our allotted time. This time, it was SRO, and we ran as long as we could till the next panel literally pushed us out the door. Consensus was that this fall's Gathering was the best ever and the only thing wrong with the hotel was the absence of communal dining--which we've fixed for 2010.   Kept getting buttonholed in the hall by grateful FARM-goers (and potential attendees) who told me how wonderful FARM had become. We will definitely stay in Bolingbrook this year, and the consensus is that to maintain a good relationship with the hotel (mirroring FAI's with the Memphis Marriott) we'll probably meet there in 2011 as well, keeping it our home base for occasional forays every two or three years (starting in 2012) to a hotel in another Midwestern city that's an airline hub with good rail access: the Twin Cities, KC, St. Louis, Detroit/Ann Arbor, Cleveland, Cincinnati,etc..  The days of bucolic and primitive retreat centers located away from international airports and AMTRAK are over......unless we want to have an interim folk retreat during the year, sort of the Folk Alliance equivalent of a science fiction "relaxicon:" no showcasing, no pressure, no business or adminstrative meetings, just good clean informal fun and music.

Off the hook as a no-longer-Regional-Leader, I rested up and skipped lunch, and headed to a long but pleasant and productive Local 1000 EB meeting, breaking for Shabbat services in Cynthia & Dick's room. Joining us were Chico Schwall and Mara Levine.  It felt like felt like home. Same prayers (synthesis of Gates of Prayer and the newer Mishkan Tefillah), different "niguns" (melodies--every congregation or region seems to have its own except for the major hymns).  I don't attend temple often enough, but I felt so at home and among a new family who felt as if I've known them forever. I still didn't quite feel up to real dinner, so I ordered another bowl of soup from room service, watched some politics and Olympics and dozed off, so I went back to rest up for the Local 1000 Showcase-Free-Zone song circles. Meanwhile, Steve had taken the car in to a GM dealership to determine the extent of unseen damage--and all there was were one cut and one off-kilter tire. Not bad--and with new tires, the car was better than even before we'd left Chicago.   I made it into the SFZ room with no voice but a guitar and dulcimer--croaked out "The Dream Deferred" a step-and-a-half low, and skipped a verse, but still did okay.  Went to bed knowing I had a full day of meetings and performance ahead.

Up early for the remainder of the L1K EB meeting--had a granola bar, DayQuil and a quart of hot herb tea and honey for lunch & dinner.  Broke in time to rehearse with Steve for our 2 pm Parkington House showcase--again, though the audience was small at first, our energy level and ensemble vibe brought people in and we got a gig offer (and, we hope, entertained our hostess). Then on to set up for the L1K membership meeting--which was warm and enjoyable.  Next, to Cynthia & Dick's room for Havdala service--the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat, almost always held at home rather than in temple. Again, I don't think I'd ever felt as at home at a Folk Alliance as I did with the Roths.  Chico joined us at the conclusion. I begged off a repeat fried chicken dinner, as it was the first evening I had enough appetite to handle a full dinner and Steve had been craving our annual trip for ribs at the Rendezvous. Acting first upon advice to try Tops instead, we arrived at the branch across from the Medical Center only to find they served only pulled pork and burgers--no ribs. So we cabbed it back to the Rendezvous--during our wait for a table, we ran into a family from Northbrook, who'll be coming to our Newport Coffee gig this May. Small world!  And the ribs?  Oooohhhh  my...........there's a reason why Food Network, who employs the Neelys (who run a competing joint) had its panel of critics rate the Rendezvous as the best.  Hey, how can you go wrong at a place referenced in a John Hiatt song? ("Memphis in the Meantime," if you're keeping score).

Back to the hotel.  I'd not been comfy with my voice at the L1K meeting closing song--I think my vocal energy'd been spent giving my all at the Parkington House showcase earlier in the day. Steve and I both had writing and blogging to catch up on too, and the semi-open writer's round in Kari Estrin's room had a line stretching out the door and down the hall.  I drifted off during the Olympics and was awakened by a call that our presence was requested at a writers' round in the Roths' room.  We hightailed it up there and I did "Dad's Harmonica." We then sat through a delightful set from Canadian Kerry Katherine, and then the closer from the inimitable Andy Cohen.  Though he is a "blues" player, it is impossible to feel anything short of energy and exultation after one of Andy's sets. No way were we about to fall asleep. (Heck, he can spin his Gibson in the air mid-run--take THAT, Los Lonely Boys!--and not miss a note).  We said our heartfelt good-byes to the Roths, who were leaving for north Texas in only a few hours and headed off to sleep (which did not happen till close to 5 am, since the Andy-Cohen-induced musical high took that long to wear off).

maladies (no more mishaps), music & miracles: part two - February 18, 2010

On Tues 2/16 we hit the road (more gingerly this time, noticing carefully just how many breaches in barb-wire fences we saw) for Memphis, detouring for a power supply for my Mac, and for lunch at the inimitable 17th St. BBQ, the southern IL chain of which is a perennial world rib-cookoff champ and well-deserving of it.  It seemed that the sunset came faster; and at one gas stop in Sikeston, MO we got ourselves lost (despite GPS in both of my cellphones) due to ambiguous signage--a problem that repeated itself when we found ourselves missing the I-40 turnoff and entering Memphis in a decidedly unfamiliar part of town (unfamiliar at least in daylight). We'd been looking forward to enjoying Mardi Gras on Beale St, but arrived so late we had to settle for the bar at the Marriott, with margaritas instead of hurricanes. Laissez les bons temps rouler? Hey, after the two days we had, laissez ANY temps rouler and not "tombler." 

Awoke Wed. morning intending to hit the breakfast buffet, but it was all I could do to choke down a couple of cups of coffee and an Atkins bar.  Yup--I had come down with not just the mother but the mother-in-law of all colds. Spent much of the day napping and then headed to Exhibit Hall setup. Only there was nothing yet to set up--nothing and nobody had arrived at our table but yours truly. It was COLD in there too--I looked longingly at the "clothing petting zoo" of velvety tops and jackets but dared not buy one. I decided to rest in my room and skip the Exhibit Hall welcome reception--just not up to it and needed to practice my parts, and conserve my strength and voice.

Eschewed dinner for a bowl of room-service soup, then napped. Uh-oh.  For those of you with colds or reflux who must sing later in the day, do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT nap, no matter how rotten you feel. (I knew I had a fever, but the thermometer I did find--packed into my bags long ago when Gordy was still a kid--had such an old battery that it informed me my body temp was somewhere between Popsicle and sushi). I awoke at 8 for our 10:30 showcase with very little voice, all of it either basso profundo or Minnie-Mouse falsetto. I figured we'd focus on the songs on the CD featuring Steve on lead and me on soft harmony and instrumental prowess.  I could barely croak out that harmony. By sheer dint of water, vitamin C, a tangerine (thank you, Doug Spears!), Ricolas, throat spray and hot tea with sugar and soft warmups, we were able to get through both the rehearsal for the set for which we were Cynthia Bennett's backup band (along with Chico Schwall and her husband Dick Roth), our own set (note to anyone who saw that--my voice is much better!) and then Cynthia's. On the whole it went well.  We were then informed that Louis Meyers, the Exec. Dir. of FAI, wanted us to record Cynthia's hilarious parody, "The Bassist Who Never Returned" (a situation familiar to anyone who ever found themselves first waiting forever for and then unable to exit a crowded convention elevator) the next day---on a true Edison wax cylinder!  (Good thing I'd brought my acoustic bass guitar!).  En route back to my room and dreamland, Cynthia hugged me softly and sang a Mi Sheberach for my healing.  I realized that I was in the process of making not a contact, but a real friend.

Awoke Thurs. feeling somewhere between hit-by-a-truck and death-warmed-over.  Went to my final Regional Leaders luncheon, passing the FARM President baton into the able hands of Annie Capps. Nibbled my way through the omelet & salad, passed around my fries. Then off to the Trolley Stop for the wax cylinder recording.If you've never seen this before, it was like going back into a time machine.  Everyone: vocalists, instrumentalists, gathered in front of a small condenser mic atop an old-fashioned gramophone horn.  A hollow wax cylinder was slipped over a slightly smaller metal tube and rotated at over 100 RPM while a steel needle etched the analog of the sound funneled through the horn.  Each cylinder is only 2 minutes (about 5") long, so we managed to capture only the first half of the last chorus.  So another cylinder was slipped on and we picked up with the last part of the last verse.  Now, you young'uns used to editing a computer-screen ProTools or Logic waveform with a few mouse clicks may never have seen analog reel-to-reel tape spliced with a metal block, a razor blade and sticky tape.  Imagine going back a step further--actually cutting off parts of the wax cylinder and pressing them together to make an edit!  Can't wait to hear the finished product!

Sent Steve to the Folk-DJ reception while I set up the Local 1000 table.....except none of our materials had appeared to arrive save for the guitar picks which I'd brought with me, and nobody from the union was in yet. Then, to my immense relief reports of arrivals trickled in on my cellphone and I met Local 1000's interim office mgr. Amanda--who was friendly, professional, and bearing loads of literature, forms and our two banners. We quickly set up and sat at the table, despite the still-arctic hall temps and dearth of passerby. Still, I stayed till 5:45. Steve came by and had been able to hand out only 6 CDs--the lines at the reception for each DJ were THAT long. Oh, well--there were several days left, and I had handed some out myself.

Our next showcase wasn't till 2 am in the GoGirls room.  Gratefully accepted Cynthia & Dick's offer of dinner at Gus' Famous Fried Chicken (Cynthia pointed out I'd be getting my chicken soup in solid concentrated form). Madalyn Sklar of GoGirls Music, her partner and another friend came along and we had a marvelous time (although I learned the hard way that as with fried green tomatoes, one prudently eats fried pickle spears with knife and fork--those are HOT). Went back to the room to nap. Awoke at 12:20 for our 12:30 rehearsal---and I had NO voice. NONE. ZIP. NADA.  Enough wind to play harmonica but my croaking wouldn't have satisfied the least discerning frog.  So Steve arrived and I bludgeoned my way through every therapeutic warmup exercise I knew, gobbled Ricolas, guzzled hot tea and tepid water and whatever Singer's Saving Grace I had left--slowly my voice came back, we dropped everything a step and went for it.  Arrived in the GoGirls room to find Mara Levine softly, soothingly and calmingly charming everyone--and then noticed the webcam.  We weren't going to need to blast, just be ourselves, audible and entertaining. And it worked--we kicked butt and took no prisoners, knowing the world was watching. We had fun to make sure our viewers would too.  We closed out the night; and if I'd had the strength to pick up Madalyn Sklar and hug her I would have--we settled for a high-five, a hug and a goodnight!

mishaps, music and miracles, part one: why I am a weather wuss and proud of it - February 15, 2010

What a two weeks it's been!  Started out rather inauspiciously:  after a late start driving down I-57 to Memphis for Folk Alliance (having planned to stop at our usual halfway point of Mt. Vernon, IL), and a dinner break in Shampoo-Banana--er, Champaign-Urbana--we resumed our drive in what appeared to be (unpredicted) light snow, so light that it had been unnecessary to even clear the snow off the car after dinner. The dashboard gauge read 29F;  but then, the wind picked up and the snow turned heavier and wetter. Suddenly, we began to skid. (Steve was driving, since I'd had half a glass of chardonnay at dinner and his quaff of choice is coffee, as strong as can be).  He righted the car and we continued straight for a few seconds before we began to fishtail wildly. As valiantly as he tried to steer out, it was impossible:  we began to spin out (in Olympic parlance, about 720 degrees) before sliding off on to the shoulder, down an embankment, through a barbed-wire fence, and landing in a buzz-cut cornfield sporting eight inches (at least) of snow.  Right side up. No aerials, as the freestyle-ski commentators would have put it.

Steve put the engine into park but kept the motor on for heat.  (Fortunately, we'd gassed up before dinner. Insert fart joke here). Hearts pounding, lungs panting, we looked at each other. "You okay?" we asked each other simultaneously--and in unison sighed and nodded "yup." After a moment of silence (and a murmured Shehechyanu in thanksgiving), we turned to each other.  "If we don't at least get a song out of this," I said, "we're in the wrong da*n business." We both guffawed and reached for our cellphones (mine with GPS) and called 911 and his insurance company.  (I said a second thanksgiving that I had not been driving--first, because I'd have panicked and the results would have been far direr; second, because there might be a breathalyzer involved--and all Steve had to drink for days had been black coffee and lots of it; third, that there had been no other drivers around us; fourth, that there were no trees or ponds; and fifth, that it was a flimsy barbed-wire fence and not a wooden fence, stone wall, K-curb or metal guardrail we'd encountered).  Before the state police could arrive, a nice young man with a pickup truck appeared and offered to tow us up on to the shoulder. We all took turns rocking and pushing, but we were mired just too deeply in the snow to get us close enough to his tow-strap and he could not get his truck backed up close enough without miring himself as well.  The state trooper arrived and we turned to thank our good Samaritan, but he left before we could even get his name. We're dedicating "Where Did the Good Man Go?" to him in our liner notes.

The trooper took note of the Wisconsin plates on Steve's Pontiac Vibe after giving us our exact map coordinates and contacting the nearest available tow-operator who'd take insurance and/or plastic.  We asked him how bad it was out there in his experience, as we had counted about ten salt-and-plow trucks go by as we waited, only to watch the west crosswind blow the snow eastward back on to and the salt off the road as soon as each truck passed.  "Pretty bad," he replied, "about a dozen accidents so far tonight. All in a day's work."  We asked him to elaborate on how many crashes.  He answered, "You guys are the mildest accident so far. About four Wisconsin cars--none of'em hit anyone, only one flipped but landed upright. Some damaged, only one driveable besides yours. No injuries. The Illinois ones? Coupla two-car crashes, one into a tree, and three rollovers. None of 'em driveable. Had to call EMS for a couple."  Not saying anything about the relative merits of Pontiac Vibes, AWD, or Wisconsin vs. Illinois drivers.....just sayin'.

Tow operator finally arrived and looked at the car--just some scratches on the bumper and front of the hood where the barbed-wire fence suffered the injury to its dignity.  He surmised what had happened was because of the temperature and the snow texture, the snow had begun to collect and compact in the tire treads and freeze, turning the tires into virtual Indy-car "racing slicks."  We hit several patches of black ice beneath the snow, and didn't have a chance. We'd done everything right, per high school Driver Ed., but some road hazards can be avoided only by staying off the roads and inside one's living room.   (Of course, en route to a show, I believe in pressing on--there's always at least one fan who's braved awful conditions--sometimes, as on Dec 23, from a very long distance--to come and be entertained, and we performers owe them our all, even for an audience of one, so long as the venue is open and there's power).

After some ominous jerks and groans, we finally felt ourselves towed back up on to the shoulder. The trooper told us we were just north of Arcola, with the closest town to the south likely to have lodging being Mattoon.  We called the Holiday Inn in Mt. Vernon, and after they grumbled that we should have called them before 6pm to get a refund and we pointed out that we didn't run off the road till after 9:30, they grudgingly agreed not to charge us for our rooms.  We practically crawled those 12 miles south to Mattoon, car shimmying as the chunks of compacted snow and ice in our wheel-wells (as the trooper and tow guy had advised us) slowly worked their way loose, and semis and SUVs zooming past and honking at us. We gratefully pulled into the parking lot of a Holiday Inn Express which--till we found ourselves at the front desk--we weren't entirely sure was not a mirage.  Thus (wishing I'd a Valium and/or a drink but settling for decaf and a hunk of chocolate), we repaired to our rooms, phoned home (carefully explaining our late arrivals).....and so to bed.  (At least I did---Steve stayed up in his room multitasking--working on his next song for FAWM--February Album Writing Month--writing, blogging, etc).

Two hours later I awoke, unable to sleep, lyrics swimming to the surface--I hauled out my trusty Sheaffer Snorkel and journal, set them down in my groggy stupor and then slept fitfully till breakfast time.  Neatened up the rhyme and syntax, headed down to breakfast, and sang it a cappella for a tableful of fellow tourists (who'd asked what I was doing) and the day manager (the night manager'd requested I bring down the dulcimer but had already gone).  They laughed, so I know something good---besides unscathed survival--had come of Steve & Sandy's Excellent Adventure the night before.

As Orlando folksinger-songwriter Doug Spears put it a couple of days later, "You know, in MY part of the world, people drive hundreds of miles and pay good money for a ride like that!"

More to come, but I'm beat--my first full day home (to several domestic physical injury crises, but I'll explain those later; you've probably already read about 'em in Facebook).

good news/bad news - February 8, 2010

Good news:  as of tonight, I am down 6 lbs.  Thought I'd be cheating a couple of times this weekend; but Fri. night's dinner out was canceled (too late to make OTS First Fri., alas); and at yesterday's Super Bowl party there was an abundance of low-carb fare that kept me away from the chips, quesadillas, bread, pie and beer. (Wine was another matter, but I stayed within my limit and it was dry).

Bad news:  I threw my back out, big time. Thank heavens for muscle relaxers, NSAIDs and my nukable heating pad.  (Much as I hate to do so, gotta keep moving OR ELSE).   Unfortunately, shoveling snow is not back-healthy exercise.


But how about those Saints? Who dat? Champs!  Well-deserved. (And though the temptation for schadenfreude is strong--after all, we can't forget who beat Da Bears back in '07--we can forgive. And the Mannings are Louisianans, after all).

Back on the Wagon Again..... - February 2, 2010

Sure sounds like a parody of a certain Gene Autry song, right?  But this time it's for real.  I'm not referring to alcohol (feeling drunk has always been as pleasant to me as flying in coach.....standing up....straphanging.....being kicked in the shins by a sullen toddler).  

Nope, the wagon I've climbed back up on is the diet wagon. What was my wake-up call?  Was it the fact that my knees have been hurting and popping in and out of alignment lately? That I actually had to ask Bob to smuggle me a pair of plus-size scrubs from Holy Cross because I can't quite fit into the XLs I bought at Costco? (To his credit, he was principled enough to refuse). That my beloved free biscuit-and-gravy motel breakfasts were beginning to all taste the same and give me agita to boot? That I've added a third pillow to hold off the nighttime heartburn? That it only takes a few minutes of standing in line anywhere to find myself desperately searching for something to lean on? That I find myself going to the drugstore for a roll of Tums and a nail file......and using a cart as a de facto walker? That the last few times I've navigated through airports I wished I'd actually brought my walker (which I generally use only for very long treks where I know I'll need to sit on occasion)? That I never take such treks anymore unless I absolutely have to? That I MUST have a boom mic stand to make room between the stand and my ever-rounder midsection plus guitar?  That I've started consolidating little errands to keep my at-home stair climbing to the minimum necessary?  That I can no longer put a fitted sheet on a  bed or pull on a pair of pantyhose without straining a muscle (or worse)?  That the plus-size skinny jeans I bought (and which fit) three weeks ago are already too tight on my belly? That there's less room between my calves and my boots into which to tuck said jeans? That instead of kneading on my down comforter, my cat now kneads on me?  That every time I fly now my heart stops for an instant when I sit down, lest that be the day I finally have to ask for a seatbelt extender? And that more and more times I fly or ride the bus or train, people stare at the empty seat next to me and I can actually see them doing the math as to how much of me will encroach upon them and whether they are willing to take the chance and sit down?

You know the answer:  all of the above.  Now, let me get two things straight.  First, it's not about looks (except for the aforementioned dirty ones I get on public transit).  I have made peace with my age:  the wrinkles, the need to get my teeth cleaned a bit more often and to start using my bleaching trays on them again, having to get my gray roots touched up (necessitated by there still being less salt than pepper in them), the handful of prescriptions I take (as well as vitamins with the word "silver" in them), the ever-ripening cataract.  I know I look slimmer in three dimensions and even in motion on video, and for stills there's always Photoshop.  

Second, it's not about self-loathing or a disapproval of obese people. Quite the contrary---I say live and let live, and I don't resent my insurance premiums financing the ailments of those heavier than I (and I don't believe there's really THAT much to the story). Oddly enough, I had made it down to a size 6 in my late thirties and maintained my loss for a year. Until one day, I was watching a TV debate between a representative of NAFFA (Nat'l. Assoc. For Fat Acceptance), an RN and a TV gossip columnist (or eventual FOXNews commentator, I forget the difference).  I kept hearing the two thin people ganging up on fat people, saying obesity is strictly a matter of laziness and gluttony and a failure of self-control and morality, and I began to seethe.  Did either of these two realize how much harder than they some people must work to just keep from getting heavier? How long it took me, how many people I'd inconvenienced and how often I'd inured myself in the course of losing weight by sensible means? Or that the food and restaurant industry (especially the latter) throw up roadblocks to convenient healthy eating choices?  (Ask any fast-food chain what's cheaper and faster:  a grill or a deep-fryer; lean meats and veggies or battered-and-breaded everything; fresh berries or soft-serve).  I realized right then and there that I may have been able to slip into a 6P (which today would be a 2P!) suit but that my heart was with those 2Xs whom I used to be. From that moment on, even though I had episodes of successful (but never again THAT successful) weight loss, I knew that the deck would always be stacked against me and that only the obese and my loved ones would understand if and why I were never svelte again.

No, I've made this decision simply because I'm tired of being achy and tired and dyspeptic.  Because I'm tired of having to rotate every size from 2 to 24 between my closets and my attic (to which my family sometimes ruefully refers as "the mall").  Because I want to keep the knees I have at least Uncle Sam will pay to replace them.  Because I'm tired of seeing all the cool and flattering clothes in the catalogs not being offered in plus sizes.  Because I want to be eligible for a wider variety of roles in the Bar Show.  Because I'm tired of rubbing on liniment and icing my knees and ankles after even a few hours on my feet. Because I don't want to choose between standing up to sing 2 or 3 sets and not having to rub painkilling gel on and ice my feet and knees afterwards.

So how am I doing it this time? Same as before (which took me down 60 lbs., from a 24 to a 16/18 and even 14):  the "South Atkins Beach" Diet.  And no, it's not just because I want to sing "Dead Animals and Leaves" again without a lyric modification. (And my profound apologies to those in my audiences whom that song made uncomfortable--I wasn't aiming it at you and I wasn't and still am not making any judgment about you.  Just because I've decided to change my shape doesn't mean that I think you should, especially knowing how horribly difficult if not impossible it is).   I know there are more balanced eating plans out there, and giving up starches, some vegetables and even most fruits and dairy (for awhile) is going to be a real challenge (especially when I must cook for a father-in-law who will eat nothing with legs unless it has feathers....which means if I want a steak, lamb or a pork chop I'll either have to be a short-order cook or get guilt-tripped over his eating a frozen fish or chicken meal).  If I could always stay close to home, Weight Watchers or a prefab food plan would be workable (heck, I once opted to vacation at a condo instead of a hotel just to be able to cook my Jenny Craig foods).  But I like restaurants and I do like to cook, two factors that make Jenny Craig, Nutri-System or Seattle Sutton unworkable for me (especially since the latter has no red meat, shellfish or even fresh fish).  No other plan out there has been workable for me on the road---at midnight in a small town I know I can always find a bunless burger and a salad.  I can keep nuts, celery and jerky in the car for snacks to distract me from the evil vending machines at the rest stops and the array of junk food at gas station convenience stores (some of which, though, actually carry hard-boiled eggs and string cheese). Not having to weigh and measure on the road, and being able to eat without hauling out a calculator or iPhone to keep track worked for me before.  It fell apart when first my mom and then my in-laws fell ill. I let the stress of commuting between NY, FL and home, the lack of an actual hospital cafeteria open when I needed it, and the path of least resistance of the starchy free buffet my hotel offered late at night for JFK flight crews get to me. And eventually when I had to cook starchy and sugary foods for said meat-averse in-law, I gave up trying to cook two or three different entrees every night--I began to go with the flow and the flow was more of an undertow.  Finally, Type 2 diabetes runs in my family. Luckily, I'm not there yet--but if I start to eat like a diabetic I may be able to long delay becoming (or perhaps never become) one myself.

So here I am--typing like crazy to keep me away from the Easy Mac, brownies, linguine and pot pies in the freezer. Day two, and so far so good.  I stepped on the scale at the start, but I don't intend to do it often--I'll let the fit of my clothes and the comfort of my joints let me know my progress.  I'll keep you informed.  Meanwhile, there's a little dish of nuts and olives and a quart of ice water calling my name.

a word to the wise - January 27, 2010

Had a pedicure today, which is usually uneventful. The nail salon is scrupulous about hygeine--autoclaved tools, plenty of stainless-steel foot bowls (several more than there are pedi stations) which are washed and disinfected in very hot soapy water so that each patron gets a fresh one.  No razors, just pumice and scrubs on calluses.  One of my toenails had gotten very thick over 10 years (my podiatrist assured me it's age, not fungus)--it's the one I've stubbed and fractured several times. Only in the past few months did the skin color finally return to normal (three years after the last fracture).  Today, it began to bleed after being filed vigorously--the toenail, not the toe skin or cuticle! Called Bob's office nurse who was as flummoxed as all of us how a human toenail, supposedly dead keratin, could have blood vessels (dogs' and cats' claws DO).  She had me raise the foot and put pressure over the toe while the other foot got its nails painted.  After wondering how it could happen, she casually asked me if Bob (a cardiologist) had me on aspirin therapy. I said no but I was taking Voltaren for arthritis and recently switched it from bedtime to morning to reduce reflux. BINGO--Voltaren, and any other NSAIDs such as Advil--can increase bleeding and inhibit clotting. So I had the tech put some antibiotic ointment and a band-aid on and put a dot of matching polish on it to resemble a toenail, and I drank a couple of cups of green tea (which has vitamin K, which is why it's taboo for heart patients on blood thinners) to promote clotting.  Going back tomorrow (making sure it's healed) to get that one nail painted.

So next time you're going for a manicure, pedicure, or any other procedure where you might accidentally nick yourself,  wait till afterwards to take any aspirin or NSAIDs (even OTC)! And if offered a hot beverage, go for the green tea.

That band-aid with the nail-polish on it looks cute, though. Think I'll try it next time I stub and bust a toe and have to buddy-tape it!

The CD is almost born! - January 26, 2010

It's been quite a December and January--and the big news around these parts is that the Andina & Rich CD "Two Guitars, A Dulcimer, and An Attitude" has been mixed and mastered! All we're waiting for now are two of the three licenses we need for the cover tunes to come back signed so we can forward them to the manufacturer, and for the graphics to be finished.  If you listened to WBBM 780 yesterday, you may have caught a snippet of "Caffeine," which is a very different arrangement from the version on the SASS! album and Steve's solo recording on his first CD. It is Andina & Rich through and through--our unique duet style and interplay, just the way we do it on stage (or would if someone sat in on bass and........nah, we don't want to spoil the instrumental surprise at the end).  A very few songs (there are 14 in all) though previously primitively recorded as solo or other versions make their appearances here as true Andina & Rich duets--this time fleshed out with added solos, harmonies, duo instrumentals, and recorded with crystal clarity and in-your-face intimacy and emotion. (I've said it before--Gary Gordon, our engineer, is a genius).  Of course, most of the songs on the CD make their recorded debut.   In the meantime, we are burning a limited run of a 6-song preview EP, "Appetizer," which we will be distributing to DJs and at Folk Alliance in Memphis next month.  We hope to have the "full monty" in hand and released by spring's end (in time for our summer tour and festivals) and will fill you in on the details of the Chicago and Madison release parties (and if you'd like to host one in your hometown, let's talk!).

Please help Haiti! - January 13, 2010

Please go to to donate what you can for emergency medical relief services for Haiti. No established medical facilities remain intact--hospitals have been destroyed.  Your donation will be appreciated immeasurably, and the karma goes without saying.  (If you so choose, pick another legitimate relief organization, such as 1-800-REDCROSS or texting to 99099 to donate to the Red Cross; or, a low-admin-overhead org. funneling relief to Haiti).  Bob and I have chosen Doctors Without Borders as the most direct way to help.   If you have a religious faith, please pray; if you don't, send good thoughts and healing energy Haiti's way.

let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.....then make it stop! - December 20, 2009

In that strange lull between the end of both the Bar Show and Hanukkah (see blog for the latter) and the holiday performances Tues. night on WDCB (90.9 or stream at 7-9pmCST) and Wed. night in Madison.  The latter will involve both music and possibly projectile pastry.  Mourning the loss of my medium-long left hand nails (gotta play guitar again--and they're STILL too long, but I wanted to let the manicurist down gently) and gritting my teeth about having to go out into the snow tomorrow.  But I like this kind of snow:  enough to be pretty, crunch underfoot, not chew up the bottoms of my old-fashioned X-C skis; but not enough to make driving and walking a trial. By tomorrow night, we'll have had just enough to ensure a white Christmas without the hassle.  My sympathies to all of you in the NE and Mid-Atlantic (and biting my nails till my sister in VA returns my calls and e-mails--I hope her power and the cell towers aren't still down).  

Bar Show was a gas again--but just as we settle into the groove, find the right "beat" between the crest of the laughs and the next line,  and get used to all the stair climbing to & from the dressing rooms, it's over.  I pine for the days when it ran as long as two weeks.  Don't get me wrong--I love being responsible (solo or as part of a duo or band) for making sure a cozy roomful of people have a great time; but there is something magical about not only commanding a sold-out theater but being part of something MUCH bigger than yourself. There's almost nothing like the feeling of opening your mouth and having 4 to  8-part harmony surround you....with your own voice melting into it.  Wish we could do it more often.

Ho ho ho, it's the Bar Show! - December 11, 2009

Prepping for Night 4 of a 5-day run of Chicago Bar Assn.'s Christmas Spirits revue, this year titled "I'm a Lawyer, Get Me Out of Here," at the Merle Reskin Theater, 60 E. Balbo in Chicago.  Tickets may still be available at (they'll hold them at the box office). Mention that I sent you, and you can be my guest tonight at the cast pizza-party at the Standard Club (once you've ordered, text or e-mail me and I'll give you the room # so you will be on the list--show your stub at the door).  It's the best show we've had in the 8 yrs. I've been in the cast--funniest material, most ambitious arrangements and choreography, some of the best voices in the city (not just among lawyers), and thoroughly modernized stage sets, layout and sound reinforcement.  At $60 it's half the price of a comparable seat at any other downtown musical.

My Uncle Henry, alev hasholom :( - November 26, 2009

Just found out within the past hour that last night at the age of 90, my Uncle Henry "passed his audition" and will be leading the French Horn section in Heaven's musical theater orchestra, joining his violinist wife Aunt Pearl, who arrived there ahead of him in 2001. He slipped away quietly and peacefully in hospice, surrounded by his loved ones. He told me last month that he hoped Heaven has a decent gym and golf course.  May his memory be for a blessing.

the bug has caught up with me - November 23, 2009

Woke up last night spiking a 102.4 fever, having dreamt in gibberish (or more gibberish than usual).  Been coughing, aching, had sore throat (though, knock wood, no laryngitis) for the last few days. Bob says I either must have caught H1N1 at the tail end of my travels, or my hay fever's "gone rogue" and all that congestion festered into a really bad sinus infection. (Not seasonal flu--got my shot for that way back in early Oct.).  So I'm stuck at home for the time being, keeping my distance from Gordy (who's young and asthmatic) and Bob's Dad (89 with CHF); I even have to refrain from petting my kitties lest they catch it. If it's swine flu, I guess it's karma for not keeping Kosher--all that BBQ and sausage gravy I enjoyed down south has come back to bite me.  (God must have a really edgy sense of humor).  If all goes well, I should be okay by the weekend (at least not feverish and not contagious).  We're hosting Thanksgiving at a neighborhood restaurant--but it looks as if it'll be without me. Hope Bob remembers to bring me back some turkey.

I have a new "Blog" area - November 21, 2009

Just checked in to post an opinion piece in the "News/Journal" section and discovered my web host has added a new Blog template.  The difference between the two is that anything I post over here can be responded to only privately, one-on-one, or in my guestbook, an extra button to have to click and thus an extra layer of navigation.  But my Blog posts? You can respond to them directly for all the world to see and start threads. 

But two requests please:

1. No spamming.  Any attempt to sell anything or post commercial and irrelevant to the thread will be deleted. 

2. Please don't let the sideshow take over the circus. Don't diss each other, and let's stick to the topic. If you want me to address another issue, tell me and I will in a new post.

But I'll still be checking in here to let you know what's up with my professional (and to the extent it's relevant, personal) life.  

flipper fingers winding down - November 17, 2009

After bouncing around between Chicago, southern IL, the St. Louis area, NYC, Albany, the Catskills (NERFA), PA, OH, IN and MI, your friendly Human Pinball's in Kalamazoo tonight taking care of FARM business before heading home to our own cities, beds, spouses and families/kitties tomorrow evening.  Whew!  Been one heckuva month, and we've got a killer CD (or are about to, once we approve the mixes and mastering) and tons of memories, relatives and new friends to show for it.

Got some intensive work (final guitar/dulcimer/keyboard overdubs--my first keyboard credit--and second-chairing the mix sessions) done in a whirlwind couple of days down in Sparta; Gary worked tirelessly all weekend and week to bring it all into line and make us sound like we do at our best shows....with some subtle and tasty licks from a few of southern IL's most stellar Americana/bluegrass musicians. 

We decided to make a preview cut---the updated version of "Let 'em Eat Moose"--available ASAP in honor (???) of Sarah Barracuda's book tour starting this week. Before hitting the sack tonight, I'll try to upload it here--but let me know and I'll shoot you an .mp3 too. Let's make it go viral--with no vaccine!

NERFA was amazing--many times larger than FARM but less frantic and more friendly than Folk Alliance.  Made some lasting contacts, was wowed by some killer performances and jams (including the circles at the Local 1000 Showcase-Free Zone), and had a blast despite East Coast weed pollens and acid reflux (courtesy of Catskills culinary abbondanza) doing their darndest to try and sabotage my "pipes."  Driving along Route 209 and the Quickway brought childhood memories flooding back--funny how much more beautiful the scenery is when you've been away for years; as a little kid spending entire summers up there, I guess I'd taken it for granted. The Hudson Valley Resort is the last of the old Borscht Belt resort hotels (it used to be The Granit, which was the northernmost on 209) still operating;  the Nevele and Kutsher's are still standing but eerie, idle and empty. Gone forever are the bungalow colonies, Grossingers, the Pines, Tamarack, Homowack, Zalkin's (now a Yogi Bear campground), and the venerable Concord...along with the vaudevillians who got their starts there and the Kosher dining rooms that ensured nobody would ever make it back down to the city still hungry.  (The food at NERFA was excellent--abundant a la the old days, with most of the old staples of my childhood like matzo ball soup, blintzes, Danish the size of dinner plates, prime rib, smoked fish, mushroom-barley soup, bagels, cheesecake, Linzertorte, etc.; plus concessions to diversity and modernity such as eggplant rolatini, pastas, stir fries, couscous, elegant fish and chicken dishes and even tofu. But nary a bowl of borscht in sight).  Great music, renewing old acquaintances (including from other regions and other gigs from years past) and making new connections.  And this year, we got some great work done for Local 1000--and brought new brothers and sisters into the fold.

Am discouraged about the Stupak Amendment, and chagrined that Orrin Hatch intends to introduce his own version in the Senate tomorrow (with the GOP aiming to delay, deny and hope the bill dies, as well as blocking every Obama judicial nominee---a tactic they decried when the Democrats used it on only a select few Bush nominees--and eviscerating the Dodd bill designed to protect consumers and put the brakes on Wall St. excesses and outrages). What is truly disgusting are two latest developments:

1.  Those "Pray For Obama--Psalms 108:9" t-shirts, banners, even teddy bears that have cropped up. Sounds innocuous, even benevolent, right? NOPE. That psalm calls for God or "righteous men" to make the "days" of "illegitimate kings" "few in number" and even calls for "their wives to be widows and their children orphans."  The ghost of Timothy McVeigh is grinning up malevolently from the netherworld, nodding approvingly.  This goes beyond criticism and dissent:  it is hate, pure and simple, urging violence, assassination and revolution, and it makes me sick to my stomach. It ought to sicken you too, whatever your political persuasion.

2. The about-face on breast-cancer screening guidelines.  Ever since I lost a law school classmate to breast cancer at 28, and one of my best friends battled it valiantly from her diagnosis at 30 to her death at 42 (and my mother-in-law was diagnosed at 60 and defeated it long enough for old age to claim her at 95), I have been doing self-exams as instructed, had my first baseline mammo at 38, biennial ones in my 40s and annually starting at 50. Now they're saying BSE is useless and alarmist, mammos are unnecessary till 50, and biennially is just fine till 75 (when, presumably any newly discovered tumors would grow slowly enough to not need treatment). They cite the dangers, expenses and traumas of "false positives."  Bull. Those are far outweighed by the failure to diagnose it earlier. Almost everyone I know who had breast cancer was diagnosed in their 40s or even earlier. The prime motivator here has got to be money. Breast cancer is NOT like prostate cancer, many more types of which are so slow-growing as to require only watchful waiting and periodic drug tweaks.  Many more breast cancers are virulent and aggressive thugs that kill women in their prime unless nipped absolutely in the bud.  It dishonors the memory of all our sisters we've lost to let the bean counters carry the day.  We owe it to them (especially to Christine) to reverse this ill-advised development.

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